The e-Health action plan deals with three different issues, which consist in addressing common challenges in health care between the European Union and its Member States; the launch of pilot actions to accelerate beneficial implementation of e-health tools; and the collaration and evaluation in monitoring and benchmarking best practices. Starting from these three issues, the European Commission has established a number of action points which have to be carried out between 2004 and 2010.
"The greater use of technologies and services such as the Internet, as a partner in improving health care must be encouraged", stated Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen. "This plan helps us to do this because new technologies and services make access faster and easier, reduce errors, and improve the effectiveness of health care systems."
As well as developing their roadmaps between 2004 and 2008, European governments are also expected to support the deployment of health information networks, such as Denmark's MEDCOM, which, according to the Commission, deliver savings, speed up diagnosis and treatment, and reduce the risk of medical errors.
By 2005, European Union countries are also expected to agree a common approach to benchmarking the quantitative and qualitative impacts of e-Health, and the action plan states that: "An assessment of e-Health developments should be completed ahead of the second part of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in 2005."
The actions that the Commission has set itself begin with the creation of a high level e-Health forum before the end of 2004, made up of stakeholders from national, regional and local hospital authority levels. The forum will be responsible for following up the various roadmaps developed across Europe, and identifying further areas for action.
In addition, the Commission pledges to develop a summary of European best practice in e-Health by mid 2005 to help guide Member States and, by the end of the same year, create a European Union public health portal giving access to European level health information.
Currently, a quarter of Europeans use the Internet to find information about illnesses and other health matters, but according to the Commission, e-Health solutions include products and services that go far beyond simply Internet-based applications. "e-Health offers governments and tax payers a means, through substantial productivity gains, to cope with increasing demand on health care services and reshape the future of health care delivery, making it more citizen-centred", according to the action plan.
In this regard, the plan promotes the development of an electronic health care records system; the use of electronic health insurance cards; interoperability standards for health data messages and electronic health records; the provision of on-line services such as teleconsultation, e-prescription, e-referral, telemonitoring and telecare; and the deployment of integrated health information networks for e-Health based on fixed and wireless broadband and mobile infrastructures and Grid technologies.
Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne added: "Patients will benefit from the use of information and communication technologies in health care. With the adoption of the e-Health action plan yet another element is in place to address the many issues that confront health services throughout the European Union."
The Commissioner concluded by pledging that, following the e-Health Ministerial Conference in Cork on 6 May, he and Europe's health ministers would work to ensure the best use of technology to improve the quality, availability and effectiveness of health care in Europe. You can access the e-Health action plan at the Web site of the European Union.